Windows Tip: Setting Up Mix and Match Default Browser and E-Mail

Here’s another Windows tip for those who want to use a different combination of default browser and e-mail client. This can be used to reset to default Windows settings of Internet Explorer and Outlook Express or to whatever applications you want instead. The point of this is to show that one can easily mix and match open and closed source software in Windows.

This will work for anything installed on your system and identified as browser and/or e-mail client. That will include the usual choices of Firefox, Opera, Thunderbird, and the default Windows programs mentioned above. You can use these same settings to revert to different defaults should you change settings you don’t like.

It also includes other less-known applications like Sylpheed. I like Sylpheed because it’s light on resources, very configurable and customizable (I use mew keybindings and have a lengthy set of filters that include a variety of colors to designate different things as well as the usual sorting of mail by category), and it functions the same way between operating systems. Its mbox import/export also means you can easily sync an account between different machines and even different operating systems. Sylpheed also works without any manual configuration of other applications like security suites; in my experience, it’s worked wonderfully with both McAffee (trial version on my AA1) and Kaspersky (which scans my mail and I’ve also used as a spam/junk filter).

For this example, we’re going to set up Sylpheed as the default e-mail client within IE8 (which remains my default browser in Windows even though I use conkeror more often now). The first setting to change is in tools-Internet options.

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Select the applications tab once you open the Internet options dialog and you’ll see choices for editor, mail, news groups, etc.

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Once you choose the application you want, hit Apply on the bottom. Note this should only work if you’re running the account as administrator (I had to log out, log into my administrator account, change my user setting to administrator, log back in to make my change, then go through the process again to place my account back to limited user). I know many people run as administrator which opens up the system to everything in the world. The reason you don’t want this variable to be changed by a limited user is because any exploit that can affect your browser could change app settings on the fly and compromise your system and your data. I think that’s also a good reason to not run as administrator except as needed. I know it’s not convenient, but the easier and more convenient things are for the user to change system settings the easier it is for any vulnerability to affect the whole system.

Once you have that set, you should be able to use whatever e-mail client you want within IE so that clicking on a mailto: link will open up a composer for your chosen client.

If an icon wasn’t set up in your Start Menu, you can add one this way (and it shouldn’t require administrator privileges). Right click on the task bar and select properties. You’ll get a dialog like the one below. Select the Start Menu tab and then Customize.

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This will open another box allowing you to (re-)choose your default browser and e-mail client.

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That will put an icon (with the “e-mail” description above it if you’re using the “big icons”) in the top part of your Start Menu. This will also cause whatever app you choose to open if you use the envelope icon on the IE icon bar (“Read Mail”).

It shouldn’t be — and it isn’t — difficult to set up whatever operating system you choose to use with whatever choice of applications you want. You don’t have to switch to Linux just to take advantage of open source software. You can configure Windows to work and look like you want it to even if you mix and match open and closed source software.

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